Ben and I were both rostered to work at the supermarket the following morning and ended up spending the entire morning helping out with packing away a truck-load of stock that had arrived.
We were too busy to talk much, but I did manage to let him know that Jonathon was going to come to see me at some stage today and that he wanted to talk to me alone (neither of which I had told him last night).
‘I wonder what he wants?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know. He’s got me curious though.’
‘I just bet he has.’
‘You don’t think he might want to . . . well, you know?’
Ben straightened up, then faced me and just grinned at me.
‘Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of,’ I said.
‘There’s nothing to be afraid of,’ Ben replied. ‘If that’s what he says he wants, you just need to tell him you’re already involved with someone.’
‘I suppose you are right,’ I said.
‘Unless of course . . .’
‘Unless of course, what?’
‘Unless of course you actually want him to do that.’
‘What, are you crazy?’ I exclaimed.
Ben just shrugged. ‘Well, you just never know, mate.’
‘No way,’ I replied.
‘Well, I am pleased to hear that, but ultimately it’s something between you and Jonathon. The choice is yours.’
Fuck! I thought to myself. Was he telling me what I thought he was telling me? He was the one person who I needed to have giving me a bit of support right now, and he was the last person who I thought would be telling me that.
Confused now, more than ever, I grabbed a trolley of stock and took it around into another aisle to pack it away.
I didn’t want to be next to Ben just now, I reckoned he would only go and muddy the waters even more for me, so for the next hour I worked away, packing stock, clearing boxes, and generally trying to keep myself busy.
Ben got the hint that I wasn’t really in the mood to talk, and steered clear of me for most of that time. When our lunch break came, however, we both found ourselves in the rest rooms washing our hands at the same time.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked me. There were others about and by the way he looked about the room, I sensed he was being careful not to say too much.
‘Yeah,’ I answered. ‘Let’s get out of here, huh?’
We headed out through the staff door and into a great summer’s day, being hit immediately by the summer heat, a real shock to the system after working in an air-conditioned supermarket.
‘Damn, it’s hot out here,’ I said.
‘And about to get even hotter for one of us,’ he answered.
‘What do you . . .’ I started to say, but when I noticed who he was looking at I soon got the point. ‘Shit,’ I said. ‘I almost forgot about him.’
Jonathon was walking up the street toward us, looking slightly nervous, yet confident and happy, all at the same time.
‘You want me to get rid of him?’ Ben offered.
I took a deep breath.
‘No, mate. I told him I’d meet with him. And he’s already spotted me, so I’d better get it over with, I suppose. You okay if I don’t join you for lunch?’
He just grinned at me and thumped me in the arm. ‘Go for it, Tiger,’ he answered.
‘I ain’t going for nothing but some lunch, and to maybe satisfy my own curiosity.’
‘Of course you are,’ Ben replied.
Jonathon reached us just then, saying, ‘Hi, guys.’
‘Hi, yourself,’ Ben replied.
He looked from me to Ben, then back again, but didn’t say anything. He just stood there, blinking and looking slightly apprehensive.
As usual, it was Ben who saved the day, picking up on Jonathon’s nervousness. ‘Well, guys, I’ve got to run. I have to do a few jobs for the folks while I’m downtown today.’
He had that twinkle in his eye that usually made me nervous, but what he said next was, ‘Hey, you guys ought to go have lunch together or something. It’d be better than you both eating alone.’
‘Not a bad idea,’ I answered. ‘What do you reckon, Jonathon?’
‘Sure. Why not,’ he replied.
‘Well, I’ll see you guys later then,’ Ben said, then he simply disappeared into the crowd.
Jonathon turned to me when he had gone and said, ‘He knows, doesn’t he?’
‘Yeah. He does. Sorry. But I needed someone to talk to about it.’
Jonathon started looking pale.
‘You don’t have to worry about it. He’s totally cool with it. In fact it was him that suggested we do this . . . I was all ready to pull out and say no.’
‘Let’s go eat,’ I said. ‘We can talk about it then.’
I led the way along the street to one of the sidewalk cafés, and found us a quiet table which was up against the wall of the fountain which was in the middle of the shopping mall; where I didn’t think we would be disturbed, or overheard.
After the waitress had taken our order, Jonathon said, ‘So . . . will you tell me, why didn’t you want to meet?’
‘Because I wasn’t sure what you wanted, or expected.’
‘Wouldn’t that be a good enough reason to want to meet then?’
‘Not when I’m already in a relationship. It wouldn’t . . .’ I said, then paused in mid-sentence, not sure of what to say exactly.
‘It wouldn’t be right?’ he said, finishing the sentence for me.
‘Yeah, something like that. I’d feel like I was cheating on Guy, and I couldn’t do that.’
‘Fair enough then.’
‘Are you okay with that, then?’
‘Yeah, of course I am. I certainly don’t want to break you guys up or anything.’
‘I . . .’
‘Well, you’re the only other guy I know that’s . . .’
‘That’s like you?’
‘Yeah,’ he replied, almost in a whisper, and while looking down at his hands, which were fidgeting with the salt and pepper shakers on the table.
‘And you feel alone . . .’
‘And lost . . .’
‘And maybe confused . . .’
He nodded, remaining silent.
I smiled at him and said, ‘Join the club, mate.’
‘I had absolutely no idea where, or who, to turn to.’
‘Yeah, I know what that’s like. But what about all that stuff at school? You know, bragging about the chicks and all that?’
‘Well, a guy does have an image to maintain,’ he said, grimacing as he said it, as if he realised just how bad that actually sounded.
I grimaced too.
‘You must think I’m a real prick.’
‘No. Not any more,’ I said with a smile. ‘I’ll be honest with you, I used to think that. But I didn’t really know you then. Hell, I hardly know you even now, but at least I know where you’re coming from.’
‘Thanks,’ he replied.
I simply nodded in response, just as the waitress arrived with our meals.
‘So, tell me about Ben,’ Jonathon asked after the waitress had left us. ‘He’s not . . .’
‘No way,’ I answered. ‘Straight as a die, that one.’
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t quite the truth, but there was no way I was going to give Jonathon even the slightest hint that Ben had even ever thought about fooling around with another guy.
‘What’s with you pair then?’ he asked, while tucking into his sandwich.
‘Nothing really. We’ve been mates for as long as I can remember. He found out about me by accident about three years ago, and was just totally cool with it. I thought it was going to be the end for me for sure, but he told me about this cousin he has who is gay and he said that he didn’t have any hang-ups about it at all. Just so long as I kept my hands to myself.’
‘Three years ago? Fucking amazing!’
‘Yeah. He is actually! He’s really been the only person who I’ve ever been able to talk to about any of this sort of stuff. And he’s just the best mate anyone could ever hope to have.’
‘You’re very lucky.’
‘Yeah, I suppose I am.’
‘And what about Guy?’
‘What about him?’
‘Well, how did you hook up? How did you guys figure each other out and stuff?’
‘Actually, it was by accident too,’ I replied. ‘Things usually seem to happen that way. Don’t ask me why. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t even know myself.’
‘So, you guys are pretty serious then?’
‘Yeah, we are. Very much so.’
* * *
‘So, what did he want?’ Ben asked me when we were alone in the stockroom after lunch, packing away the remaining boxes and loose items of grocery stock that wouldn’t fit onto the shelves in the store.
‘I think he just wants a friend.’
‘What do you . . .’ he started to say, then it dawned on him. ‘Oh, as in a friend, that’s like him?’
‘Yeah. Someone he can relate to and talk to about the sort of things he’s going through.’
‘Oh, and he asked if you were available.’
‘He what?’ Ben yelled, which just totally cracked me up.
‘Relax,’ I said, while still laughing. ‘He just asked what was between us. I guess he figured that seeing as we were such good mates we might also be . . . well, you know.’
‘I hope you set him straight?’
‘Of course I did,’ I replied. ‘He said he’d pick you up at seven.’
That was a packet of Fantales that connected with the side of my head!
‘Asshole,’ Ben chided.
‘Hey, man. You’re the one who fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.’
‘I suppose I did,’ he replied, while grinning like a madman.
We kept working for a while longer, then when we had finished we headed back out into the shop to see if there was anything else that needed to be packed away.
‘Hey, so what about all the “I’m into chicks” stuff that he goes on with at school?’ Ben asked me as we loaded up a couple of trolleys.
‘C’mon, Ben, the guy has an image to maintain,’ I replied.
He stopped and stared straight at me, looking all thoughtful again.
‘You mean to say, he goes out and supposedly gets all those chicks he brags about into the sack, and it’s just for show?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘The asshole. What about them? What about their feelings?’
‘Geez, mate, now you’re going soft. I’d say that they would still be enjoying it. That’s if there are actually any chicks at all!’
‘Yeah, I suppose you have a point there.’
‘I mean, it’s not like he’s ever had a regular girlfriend or anything . . . it’s always been someone different, isn’t it? So he hasn’t set out to break anyone’s heart or anything!’
‘Well, I suppose when you look at it like that. He’s not actually hurting anyone, is he?’
‘Only himself,’ I answered.
‘Well, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? Each time that he beds some girl, or makes up a story about some girl, it’s another time when he’s not being true to his own feelings. The more he does it, the more he’s lying to himself and, I reckon, the harder it’s going to be for him to stop that. Especially while he’s still at school.’
He looked at me for a long time, then just shook his head.
‘I don’t know, Tim. I swear, you are getting deeper every day. Since when did you start caring so much about people?’
‘What can I say?’ I replied. ‘That’s just the sensitive new age guy that I am. Besides, I could ask exactly the same thing of you!’
At the end of the day Ben dropped me home, and I headed straight for the shower, to wash off the sweat and the dirt from the day’s work, then raided the refrigerator, looking for something cold to drink, which I found in the form of some Coca Cola.
It was getting late, but with daylight saving and all, there was still plenty of light yet, so I headed out onto the back verandah, wearing only my shorts and with my hair still wet, where I just sat for a while, watching the day fade away.
After the day that I had had, it was quite relaxing to just sit there like that and watch the world go by. My reverie was soon shattered, however, by the ringing of the telephone from inside the house.
‘Fuck it,’ I said, reluctantly dragging myself to my feet and heading inside to answer it.
I almost ran down the hall to the telephone stand and managed to pick it up before it stopped ringing.
‘Hello,’ I said.
‘Hello yourself, sexy,’ the voice said.
It was Guy.
‘Who are you calling sexy?’ I said. ‘This is Jason. Who’s this?’
‘I . . . err . . .’ he started to stammer.
‘Just relax, Guy, it’s me,’ I said, quickly putting him out of his misery before he did something stupid; like hang up on me.
‘Jesus, you nearly gave me a heart attack,’ he said.
‘Sorry, babe, I just couldn’t resist that!’
‘Yeah, I probably will,’ I laughed into the telephone.
‘So . . . what have you been up to?’ he asked me.
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him about Jonathon again, but for some reason I just didn’t. I wanted to tell him face to face, not that there was anything that he had to worry about, it was just that I didn’t want him to be down there in Sydney worrying about what I might be up to.
‘Oh . . . just work mainly,’ I answered. ‘Ben and I have been rostered on nearly all week.’
‘Geez, that’s good,’ he answered. ‘Just think of the money.’
‘Yeah, I am. I want to put some away so we can go to Schoolies Week after our exams are over this year.’
‘Hey, that sounds like a plan.’
‘I thought you might like that idea.’
‘What else do you have planned for me?’
‘Are you alone?’ I asked him.
‘What are you wearing?’
‘Just tell me.’
‘Ummm . . . my Sydney Kings basketball top, and a pair of baggy shorts. What about you?’
‘Only those blue shorts.’
‘Hmmm . . . you look sexy in those.’
‘I look better out of them though.’
‘You better let me see.’
‘Hang on, while I go into my room. But while I do you better lose that Sydney Kings top . . . they keep losing anyhow!’
I couldn’t believe where this was heading, but by the time I had reached my room I had a raging hard-on.
‘You hard?’ I asked.
‘Like you wouldn’t believe,’ he answered.
‘I know how to fix that.’
‘Does it need fixing?’
‘Hehe . . . are we actually doing this?’
‘Yeah, I think we might be,’ I replied as I reached down and started stroking myself.
* * *
‘You guys did WHAT?’ Ben asked me the next morning. ‘That’s fuckin’ kinky.’
‘No, it isn’t. It’s fun. You should try it with Sam sometime,’ I replied, and as soon as I said it I could see it in his eyes that he was going to try.
After being so close to him for so many years, I could almost tell what he was thinking sometimes.
‘So, when’s he coming home?’ Ben asked.
‘He’s not sure. It may be today, but more likely tomorrow. It depends on his mother, I think.’
‘I see. You tell him about Jonathon yet?’
I shook my head.
‘You going to?’
‘Yeah, but I want to tell him face to face when he gets home. I don’t want him to be down there in Sydney, thinking that he might have some competition up here.’
‘That’s fair enough, I suppose.’
We had a fairly busy morning, with another load of stock arriving through the night, to fill shelves that were nearly empty after the Christmas rush.
When we had finally finished, at about lunch-time, Ben and I decided to wander up to McDonald’s to grab a bite to eat. We didn’t have to go back to work after lunch, so it wouldn’t matter how long we took.
When we got there we found Jonathan just finishing his shift, so he joined us for lunch.
‘You guys look stuffed,’ he said when he saw us coming through the doors.
‘Well, you ain’t no picture yourself today,’ Ben replied, with a grin.
‘Well, it’s been one of those days,’ he said.
‘Tell us about it,’ I replied. ‘At least we have the afternoon off though.’
‘Me too,’ Jonathon replied.
‘Okay then Jono, what’s good on the menu today?’ Ben asked, to which he just got a strange look from Jonathon.
‘Don’t mind him,’ I said. ‘He does take some getting used to at times.’
‘So I see,’ Jonathan responded.
We all ordered, then retreated to the same booth that he had sat at a few days earlier, which was in a quiet part of the restaurant and was sort of out of the way.
We sat and talked for ages about all sorts of stuff, including Ben asking Jonathon about his being gay.
Jonathon was a bit reluctant at first, but he soon opened up and it wasn’t long before we were all chatting as if we had been best friends for years.
‘Anyone for another drink?’ Ben asked after a while.
‘Yeah, that’d be great,’ I replied, with Jonathon nodding in agreement, so Ben got up and headed back to the counter, leaving Jonathon and me sitting beside each other in the booth, laughing as we checked out the kids’ colouring competition on the paper placemat that came on the tray that we had carried our food on.
‘Well, ain’t this just so fucking cosy,’ we heard a familiar voice suddenly say.
I looked up, totally surprised to see Guy staring down at us.
‘Hey, you’re back?’
‘Yeah, but not soon enough apparently.’
It was only then that I realised what it was he would be seeing. Jonathon and me sitting side by side in one cosy booth, laughing and probably looking as if we were more than just friends.
‘No, Guy, it’s not like that. It’s not what you’re thinking.’
‘Isn’t it? It looks pretty self-explanatory to me!’ and with that he turned on his heels and headed for the door.
‘No! Wait!’ I called after him, but he just ignored me.
‘Shit! Let me up! Quickly!’ I said to Jonathon, almost pushing him out of the way.
I got out and raced after Guy, but by the time I made it out the door he was nowhere to be found. I looked all around the car park. I even ran out onto the sidewalk to see if I could spot him. But he was gone.
‘Fuck it!’ I almost yelled, kicking a nearby garbage bin as I did so, which only attracted disapproving looks from the few people who were outside the restaurant.
‘Did you catch him?’ Jonathon asked when I finally made it back inside.
I just shook my head.
‘What’s wrong?’ Ben asked, returning right on cue.
‘Guy was here,’ Jonathon answered.
‘Where is he now?’ Ben asked innocently.
‘Christ only knows,’ I snapped. ‘He saw me sitting all cosy with Jonathon and went right off. Almost ran from the place!’
‘Fuckin’ idiot,’ Ben replied. ‘Didn’t you stop him?’
‘How could I?’
‘So now he thinks . . .’
‘Yeah . . . that’s exactly what he thinks!’
To be continued . . .